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It’s Time to Recognize – And Appreciate – Florida’s Foster Parents

June 7th, 2009   No Comments   Foster Care
George Sheldon

George Sheldon

George H. Sheldon is Secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families. This column originally appeared in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

It is time to recognize the thousands of Florida foster parents who open their hearts and their homes to children in need of a safe, loving and nurturing environment, and who — when the time is right — can let them go again.

Foster parents have the ability to love a child as their own, regardless of whether the child lives with them for a month or a year. They have the challenging task of providing an environment that helps a child heal and prepare to go back home, if possible, or to a new permanent home. Foster parents are a vital resource for these children as they wait between a painful past and an uncertain future.

When foster parents take in a child, they are opening their doors to a child who, in many cases, has experienced abuse or neglect or has been scarred by a parent’s mental illness or substance abuse. These young people are traumatized by being taken away from their families, their homes and everything that is familiar to them.

Such a profound loss takes a toll on their mental health, schoolwork, friendships and family connections. Those who devote their work lives to protecting children know that it is not enough to keep children safe. We also must provide an environment that meets other needs so they can develop emotionally, academically and socially. to their full potential. Foster parents can help these children bounce back from their misfortune and provide a bridge to hope for a better life.

When disadvantaged young people experience a caring relationship with an adult, they are more likely to overcome adversity. They are not as inclined to take unsafe risks; tend not to get into drugs, get pregnant, become seriously depressed, or to be involved in delinquent activity, compared to young people who have no adult connections.

Today in Florida, there are almost 21,000 children in foster care who are waiting to return to their families or to find an adoptive home. That number is down from January 2007, when the Department of Children and Families set a goal to safely reduce the number of children in foster care by 50 percent by 2012. We did this because we know that it is so beneficial for a child to be raised in a permanent and safe home. At that time, there were 29,255 children in foster care. With diligence, dedication and hard work, that number is down by almost 32 percent. We still have a long way to go, and for the safety of those children still waiting, we must remain committed in our efforts.

In the meantime, we must rely on foster parents to share their homes, while embracing DCF’s new philosophy of working with the birth parents, recognizing their strengths and preparing them for reunification with their children.

All Floridians are indebted to those who care for foster children in our state. Everyone has the power to positively influence the life of a child in need of a safe home. As we recognize National Foster Care Month, I urge you to look for an opportunity to make a positive impact on the life of a child — any child, but particularly those without a permanent home. Our hope is that many more Floridians will be inspired to become foster parents and help change the life of a young person who desperately needs you.

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